All of the 8,000 or so residents of the city of York did not squeeze into The Men’s Shop in downtown Wednesday afternoon. The place was so packed it just seemed like it.
All came to say thanks, and goodbye, as a way of life in this small southern city came closer to its end.
After 70 years on Congress Street, York’s main drag, the clothing store is closing forever. Saturday is the last day. Owner Ronnie Bailes, 69, is retiring and closing the store started by his parents after World War II. With him goes a downtown delight as sweet as momma’s tea.
A few people Wednesday fought back tears as their history seemed to drift by like the current of a meandering stream. Inexorable, and final.
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“I am the mayor of York, but Ronnie Bailes is the Mayor of Main Street,” York Mayor Eddie Lee said to the crowd.
The store started with a women’s shop down the street and moved to men’s clothing and stayed seven decades. An entire city of York, and others from farther away, found natty suits and sharp-creased slacks and other fine garments there. You wanted cheap double-knits? You didn’t go to The Men’s Shop.
Fashions changed over the decades, but a great suit or tie never went out of style at The Men’s Shop.
Surrounded by dozens of York’s residents, Lee presented Bailes and Bailes’ wife, Martie; his sisters Hazel and Norma, and mother Ruby who was the first store seamstress, with a proclamation calling Thursday: “The Men’s Shop Day in York, South Carolina.”
Lee gave Ronnie Bailes a key to the city.
Ronnie Bailes was humbled, and thankful for the countless customers who turned his store into a destination for the sartorially splendid.
“It has been an honor to serve every one of you,” Ronnie Bailes told the crowd.
Signs indicating “70 percent off” peppered the building Thursday, nestled next to silk and cotton and other fine fabrics.
But Saturday is the end for the store. The doors will close at 5 p.m.
York and its people will not forget when those doors were open, though.
Downtown York on Saturday
Saturday is the last day of business for The Men’s Shop on Congress Street in downtown York. Also on Saturday is the annual MLK Parade at 1 p.m. The parade route will include Congress Street.